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Snack food company Mondelēz International announced in its 10-K on Friday that it had received a Wells notice from the SEC regarding potential violations of the FCPA at an Indian factory. The Wells notice marks the latest development in a long-running FCPA investigation dating back to 2011, when Mondelēz first received a subpoena from the SEC. The Indian operations were integrated into Mondelēz following its 2010 acquisition of Cadbury; the SEC’s allegations relate to interactions “with Indian governmental agencies and officials to obtain approvals related to the operation of that facility.” The Wells notice indicated an intent by the SEC staff to recommend the filing of an enforcement action for violations of the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions. Mondelēz has noted that it is cooperating with both the U.S. and Indian governments in various investigations.
Following its December guilty plea in the UK, global building and infrastructure company Sweett Group on Friday was ordered by a UK court to pay £2.25 million (including a fine of £1.4 million) for violating Section 7 of the UK Bribery Act of 2010. This was the first-ever conviction and sentence for a company under Section 7, which in essence penalizes companies for failing to prevent bribes made on their behalf. The conduct at issue related to a three-year arrangement in the UAE to secure contracts related to large building contracts.
Prior FCPA Scorecard coverage is also available.
On February 10, 2016, Dutch oilfield company SBM Offshore announced that the U.S. DOJ has now re-opened its investigation into allegations that SBM paid bribes to secure contracts in various countries around the world. SBM stated that the DOJ has made “information requests” in connection with the bribery investigation and that SBM is “seeking further clarification about the scope of the inquiry.”
SBM previously had reached a $240 million settlement with Dutch authorities in November 2014 to resolve allegations involving bribes to government officials in Angola, Brazil, and Equatorial Guinea between 2007 and 2011. At the time, SBM announced that the DOJ had simultaneously closed its investigation into the same matter. Its most recent announcement, however, shows that the U.S. government has rekindled its inquiry.
SBM also announced that it has reserved $245 million to cover a possible settlement with Brazilian authorities. This announcement comes on the heels of a January 2016 settlement between the Ministerio Publico Federal (MPF), Brazil’s Public Prosecutor’s Office, and SBM’s CEO and a member of SBM’s supervisory board apparently tied to the ongoing Petrobras scandal in Brazil.
Click here to view previous FCPA Scorecard coverage of the SBM investigation.
Traditionally, non-bank lenders looked to the states and the FTC for industry regulations. But, this has changed with the introduction of the CFPB. Recent reports show that the federal government is stepping up efforts to regulate and review auto finance companies, many of whom have never been subject to bank-style examinations.
“The CFPB has created a new layer of regulation,” according to John Redding, Counsel in the Southern California office of BuckleySandler. “Auto lenders have to be alert and aware of their fair and responsible lending risks.”
Redding says one of the ways to minimize these risks is to be proactive when reviewing a company’s policies, procedures, discretionary underwriting and pricing practices. The CFPB is likely to conduct statistical reviews for loans that the company has made or purchased to ensure there is no unexplained or improper disparity between protected and non-protected classes , so companies should consider performing such analyses in advance of the regulator conducting such an analysis.
“This will help mitigate risks for the companies by identifying areas that may present risk and allowing them to proactively take steps to modify policies and practices. When the regulators are conducting an exam, companies will have to explain why the business is conducted as it is, including steps taken to ensure fair and responsible lending to all consumers, regardless of status, and address any issues that may arise,” says Redding.
The bottom line: Recognize that there are new regulators and more scrutiny on the industry and begin taking steps to perform these important reviews now.
Redding suggests the following steps auto finance companies can take to prepare for the CFPB:
- Evaluate the institution’s risk profile and prepare an operations and compliance strategy
- Update policies and procedures (review CFPB exam guidelines)
- Monitor, address, and retain records regarding consumer complaints
- Monitor third-party sources of complaints
- Appoint an ombudsman
- Conduct internal audits
- Consider patterns and practices that emerge regarding operations
- Focus on areas that may lead to consumer harm, as well as technical violations
- Include the compliance team to monitor, analyze and advise on specific proposals
On August 31, 2015, the DOJ announced that Vadim Mikerin, the former president of TENAM Corporation and a director of the Pan American Department of JSC Techsnabexport (TENEX), pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with arranging over $2 million in bribes for contracts with the Russian state-owned nuclear energy corporation. TENEX, a subsidiary of Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation, is based in Moscow and acts as the sole supplier and exporter of Russian Federation uranium and uranium enrichment services to nuclear power companies worldwide. Mr. Mikerin admitted to conspiring to transfer funds from the United States to offshore accounts with the intent to perpetuate a bribery scheme in violation of the FCPA. These bribes were made to influence the award of contracts to transport down-blended uranium to US nuclear utility providers. As part of Mr. Mikerin’s plea agreement, he agreed to forfeit over $2.1 million he received in bribes. Mr. Mikerin is expected to be sentenced in December, and faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
In addition to Mr. Mikerin, two other individuals, Darren Condrey and Boris Rubizhevsky, have pleaded guilty for their respective involvement in the scheme, including conspiracy to violate the FCPA and commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, respectively.
The CFPB today put consumer lenders on notice that it “will use all available legal avenues, including disparate impact, to pursue lenders whose practices discriminate against consumers.” The CFPB intends to employ disparate impact when examining auto lenders, credit card issuers , student lenders, mortgage lenders, and other providers of consumer credit, allowing the CFPB to claim an institution has engaged in discriminatory lending based on the effects and not the intent of the lending practices. In remarks to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition today, CFPB Director Richard Cordray stated that “[t]he consequences of ‘disparate impact’ discrimination are very real and they affect consumers just as significantly as other forms of discrimination.” To help consumers identify and avoid credit discrimination, the CFPB also compiled and released new lending discrimination “tips and warning signs.”
Concurrent with the announcement, the CFPB published Bulletin 2012-04 to specifically reaffirm its commitment to applying disparate impact when conducting supervision and examination under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and its implementing regulation, Regulation B. In support of this application, the CFPB cites what it refers to as the “consensus approach” outlined by a 1994 interagency Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending, which notes court findings that discriminatory lending in violation of ECOA can be established through (i) overt evidence of discrimination, (ii) evidence of disparate treatment, and (iii) evidence of disparate impact. The CFPB also argues that the ECOA legislative history, as characterized in the original Regulation B adopted by the Federal Reserve Board, supports application of the disparate impact doctrine.
On July 17, the DOJ announced that Louis Berger International Inc. (“LBI”) had agreed to enter into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement to resolve the DOJ’s FCPA investigation into the New Jersey-based construction management company’s operations in India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Kuwait. LBI also agreed to pay a $17.1 criminal penalty. LBI admitted that it bribed foreign officials to secure government construction management contracts around the world. According to the company’s admissions regarding a conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA, from 1998 to 2010, LBI concealed $3.9 million in corrupt payments through various methods, including (i) using inflated and fictitious invoices that were used for the payments of bribes through intermediaries, and (ii) paying fictitious “commitment fees,” “counterpart per diems,” “marketing fees,” and “field operation expenses.”
Under the terms of the DPA, the DOJ will defer criminal prosecution of LBI for a period of three years and the company will retain an independent compliance monitor for three years. In addition, Richard Hirsch of the Philippines and James McClung of the United Arab Emirates, both former executives of LBI, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one substantive count of violating the FCPA. They are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 5, 2015.
Continuing its recent trend, the DOJ emphasized the company’s self-disclosure and cooperation, as well as remediation efforts.
On April 4, the FTC released complaints filed recently against two operations allegedly engaged in deceptive auto loan modification schemes. According to the FTC, the two companies and several related individuals instructed consumers to stop paying their auto loans and promised to lower their monthly payments in exchange for up-front payment of fees, but then did not provide promised refunds when they failed to obtain car loan modifications. The FTC complaints detail the companies’ Internet and other marketing efforts and alleged false promises of lower monthly payments and money-back guarantees. These are the first auto loan modification cases filed by the FTC, which has been actively pursuing allegations of similar mortgage loan modification schemes. Concurrent with these announced cases, the FTC released an alert for consumers seeking assistance in managing their auto loans. The FTC also recently closed out a year of seeking public input on consumer protection issues that arise in auto sales, financing, and leasing.
On March 12, the CFPB announced that it launched a system to handle consumer complaints regarding auto loans and installment loans. The new complaint form also allows consumers to submit complaints regarding vehicle leases and personal lines of credit. While the system will accept all such complaints, the CFPB initially can handle only complaints with regard to consumer loans with large banks, those over $10 billion in total assets. Loans issued by small banks or nonbanks will be referred to the appropriate federal or state authority. After it has finalized a rule defining “larger participants” in these markets, the CFPB will be permitted to handle directly complaints regarding covered nonbanks.
On March 14, the CFPB announced on its blog that, pursuant to its Memorandum of Understanding with the FTC, the CFPB now is sharing consumer complaint information with the FTC through the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel system. Consumer Sentinel is an online database of consumer complaints maintained by the FTC that helps law enforcement track and respond to consumer complaints. Many state attorneys general, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center also access and provide data to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel system.
On December 17, 2012, German insurance and asset management company Allianz SE settled an administrative proceeding brought by the SEC for more than $12.3 million. The SEC alleged that Allianz violated the internal controls and books and records provisions of the FCPA in connection with improper payments to government officials by its Indonesian subsidiary over a seven-year period.
- Buckley Webcast: The next consumer litigation frontier? Assessing the consumer privacy litigation and enforcement landscape in 2019 and beyond
- Buckley Webcast: The CFPB’s proposed debt collection rule
- Buckley Webcast: Trends in e-discovery technology and case law
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "What the flood? Don’t get washed away by a flood of changes" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mitigating the risks of banking high risk customers" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano, Kari K. Hall, Brandy A. Hood, and H Joshua Kotin to discuss "Regulations that matter in a deregulatory environment" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference Power Hour
- Buckley Webcast: Data breach litigation and biometric legislation
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Navigating the challenges of the latest data protection regulations and proven protocols for breach prevention and response" at the ACI National Forum on Consumer Finance Class Actions and Government Enforcement
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Douglas F. Gansler to discuss "Role of state AGs in consumer protection" at a George Mason University Law & Economics Center symposium